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Dam Debate Heats Up

Greg Stahl
Idaho Mountain Express - February 23, 2000

Four Snake River Dams and a few species of fish have been heating up the Northwest the past few weeks in National Marine fisheries Service (NMFS) public hearings, and tonight and March 8 will be opportunities for local residents ot speak out on the issue.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold public hearings today in Boise at the Center on the Grove, 850 West Front Street. A presentation of the issue with opportunities for uestioins will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Public comments will be taken from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. Those who wish to give comments must sign up at nood for the afternoon session and at 6 p.m. for the evening session.

Another hearing will be held in Twin Falls on March 8 at the Shilo Inn at 5 p.m. Local efforts have culminated in a free bus ride on March 8 for those interested in traveling to the Twin Falls public hearing.

The bus will leave the park & ride lot in Ketchum at 1:30 p.m., East Fork at 1:45 p.m., the Chevron station in Hailey at 2 p.m. and across Main Street from Guffy's in Bellevue at 2:15 p.m.

The current public hearings are hot on the heels of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's endorsement of dam breaching. Kitzhaber announced his position on Friday to the American Fisheries Society during a speech in Eugene.

Kitzhaber is the first major elected official to endorse dam breaching.

He acknowledged that his position is a lonely one politically.

"The salmon can't wait," Kitzhaber said. "The people can't wait."

Thus far; this part of the region hasn't taken the step Kitzhaber has. None of Idaho's major elected officials has endorsed dam breaching as the best way to save dwindling salmon numbers.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has said that from a scientific perspective, breaching the dams is the best way to save the salmon. However, the department acknowledged that the issue requires a political decision beyond its authority.

Built roughly 30 years ago, the four dams on the Snake River produce 5 percent of the hydroelectric power sold by the Bonneville Power Administration and make it possible for barges to make it as far inland as Lewiston -- 300 miles from the Pacific.

Environmentalists, Indian tribes and fishermen who support breaching argue that it would restore 140 miles of spawning habitat for fall Chinook and stop most of the destruction of juvenile fish as they migrate to the ocean.

Farmers, barge operators and aluminum workers are among those who oppose breaching, arguing that it would devestate the local economy by dropping reservoirs below the level of irrigation intakes, eliminate cheap transportation for grain, wood chips and other commodities, and reduce the supply of cheap electricity.

Local resident Ann Christensen will host noon meetings at the Environmental Resource Center in Ketchum tommorrow and on March 2. The meetings will consist of background and discussion on the salmon issue.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Greg Stahl
Dam Debate Heats Up
Idaho Mountain Express February 23, 2000

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